One has to be at the NIRA offices in Kololo by 4am to get in the queue, wait for over 8 hours to be processed, and wait for months to get the ID; if at all. But you can always bribe and get it quicker
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | When Joseph Biribonwa was appointed chairman of the board of directors of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), he appeared to know exactly what he needed to do. When he conducted his first board meeting at NIRA in February, he focused on delays in replacing national IDs.
“Government is paying money on a decentralised system for the organisation. We have to know what happens in the districts. Why can’t some of these services be executed in the districts? Why do you have to bring the whole Uganda here (in Kololo) and expose our weaknesses?” Biribonwa wondered. He questioned why all services are being offered at the Kololo-based NIRA headquarters.
“I want to give an assignment to management to tell us how long it takes to replace a lost ID card,” he told the meeting, which included the NIRA Executive Director, Judy Obitre-Gama .
“And you can benchmark with the driving permit people, the passport people and at our next meeting, you must deliver to us that time. If a lost driving permit can take a week or less to replace, why should a national ID take six months or a year?”
In March, there was a report that 16.8 million Ugandans aged 16 and above don’t have national IDs. This is not because they never applied to have them but because of delays in national ID issuance.
Members of parliament led by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga have criticized the unending delays in the processing of national IDs for eligible Ugandans.
For years complaints about NIRA delays in issuing national IDs have been increasing. Since Uganda first registered citizens for national IDs in 2014, NIRA says of the 29,343,615 Ugandans who registered for National IDs, it has managed to issue only 15,227, 171 cards as of March 1 this year, leaving a 14 million without IDs.
In 2017, NIRA working with the ministry of education and sports registered all school-going children aged 6 and above. The purpose was to capture the number of school children on the national database and issue those aged 16 and above national IDs. Today none of these children who qualified for national IDs got them.
Concern over delays in issuance of national IDs was reignited when, on July 20, NIRA announced that these national IDs are ready and the students who qualify will get them at their respective sub-counties. NiRA said it had sent the IDs to the district local governments.
The announcement caused excitement because NIRA had since March suspended operations following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 in the country.
It resumed the issuance in the six pilot districts of Kampala and Wakiso among others. But nothing, it appears, has changed.
On a recent visit to Busukuma Division, Nansana Municipality, Wakiso district, we found several youth who turned up to pick their national IDs but were instead told their cards were not ready. Worse still, they were told they had to wait until the February 2021 elections are over.
“These people of NIRA are jokers,” said one of them, Jude Mukisa, a resident of Balitta Village, Busukuma subcounty, “ It is three years since I registered for a replacement but they keep tossing me around.”
On paper, NIRA argues that on average it takes six to 12 weeks to get a national ID but some people spend years without getting one after applying.
Christine Mbambu’s case is common. On January 12, 2020 she lost her national identity card when the car she was travelling on got involved in an accident. After a week, Mbambu applied for a replacement of her national identity card at NIRA’s main operational office at the Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala.
The NIRA Kololo Office was at the time receiving an average of 700 persons daily. But it could only serve up to 400 Persons per day. Officially this was on a first come first served basis. This meant anyone hoping to be processed had to be in the queue at Kololo as early as 4am at night. This resulted in allegations of extortion as applicants struggled to get squeezed into the queue.
Six months later Mbambu is still waiting for national ID card. She says this has made her life difficult given that many transactions in Uganda require a national ID. She cannot access her own money on her Centenary Bank given she lost her ATM card when she lost her national ID.
Her bank only allows her to withdraw a maximum of shillings 100,000 over the counter even when she has more money in the bank account. She needs a national ID to withdraw more.
She cannot replace her mobile phone SIM card, which too was lost during the accident. Much as she has the photocopies of the national ID, the bank and telecom companies will not issue her ATM card and new phone SIM card. These institutions claim they are strictly following the law. Mambu says her life is worsened given that movement restrictions during Covid-19 are cumbersome.
Mbambu is just one in millions of Ugandans waiting months, if not years, to get new national ID cards or replacements.
NIRA, which is responsible for issuing the national IDs, says their services were negatively affected by Covid-19 control measures and restrictions. They have just resumed issuing national IDs in selected pilot areas to inform the roll-out of the issuance nationwide in the Covid-19 era.
But even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, NIRA had become notorious for slow service delivery amidst accusations of bribery and issuing national IDs with misspelt names or wrong gender.
When one loses a national they have to replace it at a cost. Officially one pays Shs50,000 to replace the ID, then you have to pay for a confirmation letter of Shs1,000 in a bank where you have to incur a bank charge of Shs3,000. After the confirmation letter has been activated, NIRA tells the applicant that they will have their national ID within a three-month time frame.
National ID crucial
Lack of a national Identity card, limits ones’ chances of getting services just like the case of Mbambu. A number of government and non-government agencies no longer use driving permits and passports as legal documents.
Given that the country has entered a political election season, having a national ID card is very important. There are concerns that some Ugandans, including political candidates, might be blocked from participating in the forthcoming 2021 General Election due to lack of national IDs. There is a precedent. In the previous general election, DP president general Norbert Mao was blocked by the Electoral Commission from contesting for Gulu Municipality MP because he did not have a national ID.
The Electoral Commission says NIRA plays a very crucial role in as far as the work of EC is concerned. Section 65(2) of the Registration of Persons Act 2015, provides for the Electoral Commission to access the data/information from NIRA for purposes of updating the national voters’ register.
The EC argues that since one of the requirements for one to be a voter, one must be a citizen, and that citizenship is verified by NIRA, who have the structures for that purpose. This means that NIRA must be in top-notch operational or functional capacity to expedite the process of registration of citizens.
Fed up with the sluggish execution of services at NIRA, in June President Museveni reportedly ordered the Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Jeje Odongo, under whose docket NIRA falls, to search for a new executive director when the contract of Judy Obitre-Gama expires.
In the letter Museveni did not mention why Gama needed to be replaced but he cited problems surrounding the issuance of national IDs.
“I have been informed that the contract of the current Executive Director is due to expire. Given the problems faced by NIRA, especially relating to the issuance of national identity cards, there is need to identify a new executive director, especially with an information technology background,” reads part of the letter. “I am therefore directing you to work with the board of directors of NIRA and identify a suitable candidate, consult me, before a final decision is reached.”
Gama is a lawyer, who was appointed as the ED for NIRA in 2015. Before she had briefly worked with Uganda Registration Services Bureau as the company secretary.
A 2018 value for money audit of NIRA by the Auditor General found that delays in replacing and issuing of national IDs included shortage of staff at NIRA. The other reasons are that most processes, including transmission of data by NIRA from the enrollment centres to the processing centres and delivery of finished cards to the collection centres is done manually rather than online.
Obiga Kania, the Minister of State for Internal Affairs told parliament some delays are because of increasing number of Ugandans who need national IDs but register for them at last minute.
“With the national ID gaining currency as a key document to accessing critical services, the demand for services has grown exponentially; this, coupled with a tendency among the public to seek services when the need is urgent, has led to a surge in the number of clients at the various NIRA service centres where the teams are often overwhelmed”.
A statement from NIRA says replacing national IDs sometimes delays because people who lose their IDs may have not completed the registration process during the 2014/15 mass registration.
The NIRA management completed a business process review in January 2020 and has come up with proposals to improve efficiency and shorten turn-around times. This includes a proposal to prioritise replacement of IDs. Under the new arrangement, NIRA says it will give the applicant the option to print the original card which takes a shorter time or produce an updated one.
In addition, a module for replacement of national IDs was completed in June 2019 to enable district offices handle replacements process and the process of decentralising the service commenced in August 2019.
Technically, the NIRA district offices are in position to offer some national ID card replacement services, since the registration kits have been enabled with the NID replacement module. The changes in the business processes were expected to take effect from June 01, 2020. It is not clear how the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown measures will affect this process.
Process of replacing a national ID
- When a person needs to replace an ID, he or she makes an application for replacement by completing Form 11, clearly stating the reasons for the replacement. In cases where the first ID was lost or misplaced, the application for replacement has to be accompanied by a police letter as proof that the case was reported to the authorities.
- On receipt of the application the applicant’s biometrics and fingerprints are compared with the data in the national data base to confirm if the applicant has ever been registered and that the data matches with what is in the NIRA system.
- The application is then sent for processing and production of a replacement ID. Once a replacement ID has been produced the applicant was expected to pick their cards from Kololo for the period of review. This has since been decentralized to the NIRA district offices.